Bernard Fabre-Garrus, Director of A Sei Voci, Dies Two Hours Before Concert

Classic Arts News   Bernard Fabre-Garrus, Director of A Sei Voci, Dies Two Hours Before Concert
Bernard Fabre-Garrus, a singer and conductor who co-founded and directed the admired French early music ensemble A Sei Voci, died suddenly on August 19 in Le Puy-en-Velay, France, apparently of a heart attack. He was 62.

According to reports from Le Monde and Agence France-Presse, Fabre-Garrus's death came only two hours before he was to direct A Sei Voci in an afternoon concert at the Festival de la Chaise-Dieu.

Born in 1944, Fabre-Garrus began his musical training at age 7 at the Conservatoire de Marseille, according to Le Monde; at age 18 he moved to Paris and studied first at the Versailles Conservatory and then at the Conservatoire national sup_rieur in the French capital. It was at this time that he first became interested in early music.

In 1977, Fabre-Garrus and five colleagues from the choir of Radio France founded Ensemble A Sei Voci to perform music of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras; they made several recordings for the Accord and Erato labels, including discs devoted to Josquin Desprez, Gabrieli and Gesualdo.

In 1991 A Sei Voci was revamped (and the word "Ensemble" was dropped from its name); Fabre-Garrus took on the directorship of the group and engaged a roster of younger singers and instrumentalists flexible in number and make-up (the group's name notwithstanding). After this point, A Sei Voci's activities increased, in concert and on disc, and its reputation grew; in 1994 the group won the Vocal Ensemble of the Year prize at the Victoires de la musique classique (roughly equivalent to the Grammy Awards).

Around that time A Sei Voci began an association with the label Astr_e-Auvidis (and its corporate successor, NaÇve Classique) that led to 16 well-regarded recordings, notably a 6-CD series of masses and motets by Josquin Desprez. Among the most interesting of those releases is a disc devoted to Gregorio Allegri, featuring his famous Miserere in both the version commonly heard today (from an edition dating only to the 1930s) and a startling reconstruction by musicologist Jean Lionnet with embellishments of the sort Allegri's own 17th-century colleagues in the Sistine Chapel Choir might have improvised.

While Fabre-Garrus and A Sei Voci always returned to their roots in the Renaissance sacred repertory, they expanded their horizons as well: they commissioned and premiered new music from such composers as Thierry Escaich, Guy Reibel and Michael Levinas, among others, and they developed a second specialty in neglected works of the early Italian Baroque. The ensemble's last recording with Fabre-Garrus, of a Requiem and Psalm settings by Maurizio Cazzati, was released on the Studio SM label in 2004.

Amazingly, the musicians of A Sei Voci went ahead with their August 19 concert despite having learned of their director's death two hours before curtain time: Philippe le Corf led the program of sacred music by Domenico Scarlatti in the church of Chamalires-sur-Loire. The following evening, in the abbey church of St. Robert in the village of la Chaise-Dieu itself, Blaise Plumettaz conducted the ensemble and two choruses of colleagues in the modern French premiere of Giacomo Perti's 1687 Missa in Nomine Domini for three choirs. Both concerts were dedicated to the memory of Bernard Fabre-Garrus.

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